|George W. Bush with, from left to right, presidents of Mozambique, Ghana, Botswana, Niger, and Namibia|
President Bush is defending his plan to spur democracy and economic growth in Africa. Mr. Bush says liberalized trade, mixed with debt relief, can help spread freedom on the continent.
President Bush invited five African leaders to the White House to help showcase his formula to promote development and democracy.
Surrounded by the democratically- elected presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Niger, Mozambique and Namibia, Mr. Bush spoke of a future of hope for the troubled continent.
"All of us share a fundamental commitment to advancing democracy and opportunity on the continent of Africa," he said. "And all of us believe that one of the most effective ways to advance democracy and deliver hope to the people of Africa is through mutually beneficial trade."
The president hailed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, which has liberalized trade between the United States and countries that implement political and economic reforms. He noted that in 2004, exports to the United States from AGOA nations were up 88-percent over the year before, and non-oil exports were up by 22 percent.
"And that is helpful," the president said. "That is how you spread wealth. That is how you encourage hope and opportunity."
The president also spoke of plans by the Group of Eight industrialized nations to cancel more than $40 billion in debt that some of the world's poorest nations owe to international lenders. Eighteen nations are slated for debt relief, including 14 in Africa.
"The countries eligible for this relief are those that have put themselves on the path to reform," he said. "We believe that, by removing a crippling debt burden, we'll help millions of Africans improve their lives and grow their economies."
The debt package is part of an ambitious African aid plan being promoted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the host of the G-8 summit in Scotland next month. Mr. Bush has declined to sign on to most other aspects of the plan, and is trying to call attention to all the programs his administration already has in place to help Africans, such as those that fight AIDS and provide grants for countries that embrace democracy.
The African leaders who met with the president all come from countries that are eligible to participate in this new aid endeavor, known as the Millennium Challenge Account. As they emerged from the White House, they urged the United States to do more.
President Mamadou Tandja of Niger said the United States should offer more direct aid, and channel less through non-governmental organizations. And the president of Mozambique, Emilio Guebuza, made a plea for additional help for his country, saying it is in dire need of extra support.